Puffy clouds of flour hang in the air and in one machine, dough is being mixed, in another it is being stretched, four pairs of skillful hands deftly work the dough easing it along its journey from flour to yufka, ready to be made into that Turkish staple, börek. We are in Bebek Yufka, to watch the transformation.
Although every stage is still done by hand in villages across the country, in professional yufka shops, like Bebek Yufka, they get a little technological help. First, flour, salt, and water is worked into a dough using a mechanical mixer. Then, the unleavened dough is formed into individual balls and placed into flour. Once the individual dough parcels have rested, they are stretched by hand before being fed into a mechanical mangle that elongates them into thin ovals. They are then rolled into circles using a long thin rolling pin known as an oklava (these are traditionally made of wood, but metal ones are also used), and are then transferred to a heated saç, which is a cast iron convex griddle. Several can be cooked at once in a small pile, until they begin to blister with light brown spots after just a few minutes.
After being dipped individually in water and layered between pristine white muslin, they are transferred into one giant stack, where they need to rest for at least 15 minutes more, during which time the wrinkles drop out. When an order comes in, the yufka is folded into a neat square to be rolled and wrapped into perfect paper parcels.
During the preparation process, moving the yufka requires it to be wrapped around the oklava, and even though the experts make this look effortless, anyone who has ever tried, knows it’s much harder than it looks. This thin dough has a texture reminiscent of parachute silk that makes a pleasant billowing sound as it catches the air. It must be treated with utmost care to ensure no tears occur, maintaining their 60cm diameter circles.
The original Türkmen meaning of the word yufka was ‘thin’ or ‘fragile’ and it has come to mean any thin bread or pastry. It was made by the nomadic Turkic tribes who traversed the Central Asian plains from Mongolia to Anatolia and was included in a Turkish-Arabic dictionary dated 1074. Its simple ingredients and preparation (without yeast) along with its quality of being dried and stored, made it ideal for people on the move.
Where To Find It
Almost every neighborhood has a small yufkacı (yufka maker) that open at the crack of dawn and churn out hundreds of perfect circles each day, often making two massive batches. You can also buy it in the city’s open air produce markets listed on page 199. It is best used fresh but can also be dried and stored for up to six months, and rehydrated with a sprinkling of water when needed. It is possible to buy it frozen from supermarkets but the quality is often not so good and users may find it brittle to work with. You can also use filo pastry if you can’t find yufka, but it is much thinner so you may need to use several pieces, or you can try making it yourself.
We visited Bebek Yufka, a family business that opened in 1987 where everyone did their part, and we swear we’ve never been in such a happy and harmonious work environment. Visit the Kartal family and see for yourself, or watch our Instagram video. Küçük Bebek Dereboyu Caddesi No. 35/37, Bebek; P: (0212) 257 05 53
Shepherds across Anatolia enjoy yufka rolled around pekmez (fruit molasses) as an energizing snack. Another simple dish is called katlama (meaning folded) where crumbled cheese and butter are encased in yufka and toasted for quick bite. In the region around Sinop, on the Black Sea coast, it is used to make ıslama – a dish made from strips of yufka, soaked in chicken stock and topped with walnuts and shredded chicken.
Despite popular conceptions, yufka is not used for making the Turkish sweet syrup soaked baklava (which requires a much thinner dough), or the miniature meat-filled dumplings, mantı, which use a thicker version.
However, it is most commonly used for börek, which is available in a number of forms: gül (rose: rolled into a long sausage and curled into a circle), sigara (cigarette: made from wedges of the yufka sheet, rolled thin like a cigar and usually fried), kol (arm: rolled into thick sausages and bent back on theirselves) muska (amulet: little triangles that make the perfect party snack), tepsi (tray: layers of yufka and filing cooked in the oven) su (water: made with boiled, crinkled layers). The typical fillings are peynirli (white cheese), ıspanaklı (spinach), patatesli (spicy potato mix), kıymalı (with spiced minced lamb), paçanga (with yellow cheese and cured beef), or are a mix of the above.
Where to Taste It
Börek is one of Turkey’s most ubiquitous foods and you’re likely to find some variety of it in every neighborhood. Lots of people swear by their local börekci. However, we also recommend tasting it at the following locations:
An Istanbul classic since 1927, Borsa serves the essentials of the Turkish kitchen in an upscale environment with excellent service. Locations in Harbiye, İstinye, and Kandilli
Meşhur Sarıyet Börekçisi offers not-so-healthy but oh-so-good breakfast/brunch options. Their şekerli börek (sprinkled with powdered sugar) is the tastiest. But if you’re not big on sweets, try their börek with potatoes or meat. Yeni Mahalle Caddesi No. 50, Sarıyer; P: (0212) 242 15 39
Taken from the Flavor Factor section of our May/June 2014 edition.